In 2014, we were extremely grateful to be rewarded with a $500 grant from Rodale’s “Your Two Cents” Organic Seed Fund to help us purchase organic seed (our seed costs fall somewhere around $1500 to $2000/year).
As certified organic farmers, we must purchase organic seed to grow our organic crops. However, there is an exception. If we cannot find a variety that we want offered as organic seed on the seed marketplace, we can purchase non-organic seed as long as it hasn’t been treated with anything that is not allowed under the Canadian Organic Standards.
This exception was created to recognize the fact that the organic seed industry (production and breeding) needed time to develop. And organic farmers would be at a disadvantage in the meantime (with fewer options in general and even fewer options being improved upon and selected for important disease resistances and greater yields).
But the organic seed rule is important, because it is a promise to organic seed breeders and producers that they will have a market for the organic varieties they breed, improve, and grow out. And that’s a lot of work and a lot of dedication on the part of the plant breeders and seed producers. And what they’re doing is really important…for biodiversity, for healthy soil and clean water (they’re all farming too…and their management practices are affecting the world we all live in), and for the options available to organic farmers and eaters.
Even in just the years we’ve been farming, we’ve seen an increase in organic varieties and the performance of the organic seed we grow.
The downside is…the cost. Many (though definitely not all) organic seeds do cost more than the non-organic ones (sometimes so much more that it’s hard to justify the price on a commercial level).
So, the whole point of Rodale’s Organic Seed Fund is to help counteract that increased expense in organic seed for organic farmers. On our end, as recipients of the grant, we were asked to write a report at year end. While I was writing the report, I thought it might make an interesting blog post. So, that’s where this is all coming from and here are some of our thoughts on how organic seeds performed on our farm in 2014 compared to non-organic seeds:
Overall, the organic seeds planted on our farm this year performed very well.
In the spring, some of the first products we offer for sale are our vegetable, herb, and flower transplants. We proudly offered our customers only transplants grown with organic and open-pollinated seeds. Many of our transplant purchasers gave us positive feedback later in the season, letting us know that the plants we sold them produced better for them than seedlings they had purchased elsewhere.
Through looking for a greater selection of organic varieties, we tried out a few new-to-us seed companies (Osborne Seeds and Fedco Seeds) and were very happy with the quality and the customer service and will continue to purchase from them. We continue to be happy buying organic vegetable seeds from High Mowing Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds. We also purchase some vegetable seeds from Adaptive Seeds, Wild Garden Seed, William Dam Seeds, Vesey’s, Hope Seeds, Mapple Farm, and Annapolis Seeds.
With one of the newest varieties of organic carrots we tried (Miami), we seemed to get a higher degree of forking than with our other carrots, both organic and non-organic varieties (even in the same field or sometimes the same bed). We wondered about the field conditions and fertility that the seed crop was grown and selected with and how that relates to its tendency to bolt on our farm (since forking is sometimes attributed to excess Nitrogen in carrots)?
Organic cucumbers like Poona Kheera and Silver Slicer were especially robust and vigourous as seedlings and plants over our non-organic cucumbers (though they are also specialty cucumbers, so harder to compare with standard cucumber varieties). While these specialty cucumbers looked unusual, their flavour and texture really wowed us and our customers.
Kale: the organic varieties were hard to compare with non-organic as our organic kales were all OP (open-pollinated) and the non-organic kales were hybrids. The organic hybrid Ripbor was unavailable last year at the time we were ordering. High Mowing’s OP Curly Roja compared very favourably with the non-organic hybrid Redbor that we grew in the same bed.
We grew 2 varieties of Brussels’ sprouts in 2014. One from organic seed (Nautic) and one from non-organic seed (Jade Cross). The Nautic performed MUCH better than the Jade Cross in terms of vigour in the field, yield of marketable stalks, and appearance overall.
Both of the Romanesco cauliflower seed we planted were organic (Tipoff and Veronica) and we were very happy with the results. However, the price is quite a bit higher for organic Romanesco seed and it’s hard to know whether it was worth it in terms of results.
We tried a new organic fennel (Preludio) that we were extremely happy with in the field (our market for fennel is, sadly, not as robust). We have tried other varieties of fennel in the past (both from organic and non-organic seed) and none have performed as well as Preludio for us.
One issue we had in trying to compare results between organic and non-organic seed was that we are unable to trial the same variety, grown under organic and non-organic conditions. This is due to us being certified organic and unable to purchase non-organic seed if we can source the same variety organically. Therefore, it wasn’t always easy to know if the successes or failures we were seeing were related to the specific variety or the fact that the seed had been produced using organic management techniques. It would be interesting to see trials between the same varieties (and ideally same strain of the variety) from organic and non-organic seed.
On a personal level, our commitment to sourcing organic seeds has been strengthened and we are very encouraged and excited by the developments in the organic seed industry.